Work Ethic and Relationships — Wisdom From Taylor Swift’s Former Manager

I came across an article recently while doing research and part of it really struck me so I wanted to share and comment. This falls in line with my continued focus on self improvement and personal growth.

You may dislike pop stars, you may think they just “phone it in,” there’s no talent, it’s all flash and no substance. And maybe sometimes that’s right, but often, there’s more to it than you know.

Rick Barker was Taylor Swift’s first manager before she made it big. In this article he shares some great insight about her and about business in general (emphasis added):

“Yeah, everybody likes to think her daddy bought her this or, because they had money, that happened. It’s all bullshit. There’s no shortage of daddies with money with daughters who sing. If that’s the magic pill, why don’t we have a 1,000 Taylor Swifts?
And that’s the thing! If that’s the secret, if it’s, “Well, she has Scott Borchetta on her team,” then great. Not every artist on Big Machine Records has gone on to Taylor’s success. “Oh, well, she had the best players on her record.” Great. Well, those players have played on other people’s records, too. So why don’t they have Taylor’s success? Why? Because they don’t have Taylor Swift’s work ethic.
You cannot teach that. Everybody thought, “Oh, shit. We’ll just show up to Nashville with our daughter dressed in a sundress and cowboy boots. That’s the secret!” That wasn’t the secret. The secret is Taylor cared so much about her fans and she used her music as a way to do research, then sold that music to her friends. Most other artists record an album, try to sell it to strangers, then wonder why it doesn’t sell. That’s because people forgot how to build relationships. Not Taylor!”

I had never really thought about it that way, but it makes a lot of sense — people are usually trying to sell to strangers, but your friends are very loyal and supportive and will “spread the good word” for you.

I also love how he highlights that people think there are these magic bullets to success, as if imitating something popular is guaranteed to also be popular (assuming you actually understand why it’s popular to begin with), maybe in the short term but the real thing will last in the long term.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit”

At the end of the day, work ethic (or hustle if you prefer) wins. Work ethic indeed cannot be taught, it is learned. And as an entrepreneur I have seen this.

For years I had had these dreams and goals, things I wanted to accomplish, and so did some of my friends. I would meet people who were “already doing it” and talk to them and it would further encourage me. But I see a lot of people remain mostly complacent, because it does take a lot of work and sacrifice.

The desire to get where you want to be has to overcome the perceived difficulty, and for a lot of people, it doesn’t. So a lot of people live vicariously through their heroes and idols, while a select few try to become that idol.

One of the most common pieces of advice I give to people — and it’s seriously easy, people just don’t do it — is to follow up. 95% of people don’t bother to follow up, so even just following up once puts you ahead of 95% of your competition. Easy advantage, no reason not to take it.

Many people are afraid of cold calling, or showing up in person with a resume, but again, that puts you ahead of most of your competition. In fact, another little secret — if you have the courage to go in person and ask for the manager directly, introduce yourself and tell them you want to work for them, that will make an impression they won’t forget. Related to both these scenarios is an experiment Tim Ferriss has run with University Students.

And as Rick said, it’s also about relationship building.

I remember years ago being told you can’t ask someone for something before you’ve given them something first. It’s bad professional manners. In fact, I’ve also been told one of the first things you should think about doing when you meet a new peer or colleague is offer them something. Like, not as you’re shaking their hand and telling them your name, but through casual conversation in the first days you’re working with them.

Start from the very beginning. It’s not about them owing you favours, it’s about showing you understand it’s a give and take thing. Show that you’re both willing and able to give.

I know I was guilty of asking strangers for help, back when I had no idea what I was doing, I just new I wanted to do something different. Of course I was thinking “yeah, I’ll pay them back as soon as I’m able to,” but people’s time and energy (and reputation) are valuable.

I can say it’s pretty cool to be sought out by the kind of people you want to work with. It’s also cool when you reach out to them yourself and they say yes.

Now I’ve gotten to a point where I’m often passing along opportunities or leads or resources to people, and so if and when I actually need help, there will be someone out there who is happy to answer the call.

And of course, having supportive friends, and being a supportive friend is one of the foundations of life. They help keep you grounded when successes come, they help pick you up when the world knocks you on your butt, and they cheer you on when you’re doing your best.

One last note related to the quote above. It relates to both friendship and relationship building.

A couple of years ago I was telling a friend of mine about my dating woes. Her answer surprised me, she said “I think you’re going about it all wrong. You’re trying to meet strangers and strike up a romance with them out of nowhere. You should be dating your friends!”

I admit at the time I was dumbfounded. That suggestion didn’t make any sense to me. There were a lot of reasons for this, a few of which no longer hold. When I came upon the quote above, about selling to your friends, not to strangers, it suddenly clicked.

Yes, you can meet strangers and connect and fall in love and all that. But the best and strongest relationships seem to be the ones where the partners are both lovers and friends. If you start with just lust, what happens when that fades away? But if you start as friends, that’s an enduring foundation.

I admit I suffered from that outdated fear of “what if it doesn’t work, then I lose a good friend!” but have since realized that a mature, emotionally literate person can likely deal with that. If I don’t think I can, that’s a sign that I’ve got some growing to do.

Accordingly, you likely won’t find me on tinder, because I can’t connect with you there the way I want and need to.

So in closing, why do people give advice? Because we want to help each other, and that’s a good thing. I hope some of this advice was helpful.

“I am not interested in competing with anyone — I hope we all make it”

Does this resonate with you? If so, let me know!

Adam Emanon is a resource curator, writer, and general think-about-all-of-the-things-er. for more.